Cities Most Likely to be Hit by an Earthquake

Earthquakes aren't predictable in terms of when they strike, but some areas are more likely to be hit. These are the major cities most prone to damage by an Earthquake.

Indonesia 2004 – 228,000 casualties. Haiti 2010 – 230,000. Japan 2011 – 20,000. Nepal 2015 – 8,800 and climbing.

Earthquakes – very strong, very calamitous events – rock our planet on a regular basis. But as with many things, the danger is not distributed evenly – and when you take into account a nations ability to confront the aftermath of such a disaster, we discover things are not distributed evenly at all.

On any given day, it is estimated that 283 million people are exposed to the possibility of a major shake up. Where the major plates of the earth touch, are the places where quakes are most likely to happen. These junctures between continental plates are called faults, and living on a fault line puts humans at risk of suffering damage or death at the hands of an earthquake.

This, however, has not stopped mankind from building some of the largest, most densely-populated cities on the planet over the most active fault lines, in other words, some big cities are build on shaky foundations. Although knowing really is not half the battle when it comes to earthquakes, we’ve armed you with a list of the major cities on Earth where an un expected tremor shouldn't be so unexpected.

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo's 29 million residents are at major risk of an earthquake and the potential tsunami which may follow

When accounting for overall exposure to the five major natural catastrophes-river floods, earthquakes, wind storms, storm surges and tsunamis – Tokyo remains first. But earthquakes are Tokyo’s main worry.

The capital of Japan sits spot-on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where its 37 million citizens are threatened by earthquakes and other natural disasters on a daily basis. The Ring of Fire is a tectonic plate in the Pacific Basin that is responsible for 90% of the world’s earthquakes and 81% of the world’s strongest quakes. On top of its prolific tectonic activity, Japan is also home to 452 volcanoes, making it the most disruptive geographic location in terms of natural catastrophes.

According to international organization Swiss Re, 29.4 million Tokyo residents would be exposed were a strong quake to occur. But earthquakes are not the only natural catastrophe to factor in: monsoons, tsunamis, and floods are prevalent in the region. It is this singular potential for multiple disasters that makes Tokyo such a dangerous city.

An important aspect in understanding the threat posed to Tokyo is how these events would reverberate on the world scale. That is to say, the value of working days lost from a natural catastrophe in Tokyo would affect the international economy to a greater degree than in any of the other catastrophe-prone cities, and would, of course, be a disaster to Japan’s national economy.

Jakarta, Indonesia

Not just the earthquake would affect Jakarta, flooding is also a major risk

The capital of Indonesia sits in a precarious position. That it would be the second-most earthquake-prone city in the world is not surprising, as it too sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire. But the complications do not end there: a little less than half of the city is below sea level, putting it on soft soil that has the unenvious potential to liquefy if an earthquake of sufficient magnitude were to strike.

In the event of a major earthquake, an estimated 17.7 million lives would be at risk. Its elevation also places Jakarta at risk for severe flooding. When accounting for exposure to all five major natural catastrophes, it places fifth on the world scale. The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake (and ensuing tsunami) killed over 283 000 people. Of course, due to the nature of the region, many earthquakes of much smaller magnitude occur much more frequently – more than once a month.

Manila, Philippines

Damage to Manila would greatly affect the nation as a whole

Capital of the Philippines and second in line after Tokyo for world’s riskiest city overall (typhoons, volcanoes and tsunamis abound), earthquakes in this region regularly hit above 6.0 on the Richter scale.

The danger posed by earthquakes to Manila is threefold. It is, of course, snug with the Pacific Ring of Fire, making it especially susceptible not only to quakes, but also volcanic eruptions. With a population of 1.65 million citizens condensed into 15.4 square km, the danger of a close-hitting quake is enormous. And, considering the city’s current infrastructure and surrounding area, it is estimated that 16.8 million people will be exposed to injury, death or damage the next time an earthquake above a 6.0 magnitude strikes directly on the city.

The threat to Manila is worsened due to its soft soil, which presents the risk of ground liquefaction. But a disaster would not end in death and destruction: due to Manila’s importance to the Philippines economy, devastation of the city would mean economic ruin—it is projected that a sizeable quake would shake over a third of the country’s economy.

Los Angeles & San Francisco, United States of America

California sits on the major San Andreas fault line, putting the most populous state in the USA in danger

We’ve all dreamt of hopping into a VW van, braiding flowers into our hair and feeling the west-coast breeze as we sail down the Pacific Coast Highway

But residents of the Sunshine State should not be so care-free. According to a recent World Geological Survey, California is more than 99% likely to be hit by a big earthquake – one that ranks above a 6.7 magnitude – within the next 30 years. Although both cities are highly developed, neither are fully outfitted to face a quake without shaking.

Los Angeles and San Francisco do not rate quite so high in terms of loss of production to their national economy as some of the other earthquake-prone major cities on this list (other major U.S. cities could compensate for the lost value of working days); however, the absolute effect of this loss on the world economy would be enormous. LA and SF rank 6th and 8th, respectively, on the scale indicating value of working days lost from a major disaster

Californians have long awaited the San Andreas Fault Line’s next victim—and the question has usually been, LA or San Fransisco? But scientists estimate that the Cascadia Subduction Zone, opposite the Pacific Ring of Fire and near San Fransisco, Vancouver and Portland, has the potential of unleashing a much greater earthquake than the San Andreas - an earthquake that could reach up to 9.0 on the Richter Scale, a ranking that only occurs once every few centuries.

Osaka, Japan

Osaka is Japan's industrial centre, meaning damage to the city could affect the world at large

Osaka, Japan, ranks fifth on our list of most-exposed communities. Ranking close behind LA at 14.6 million people potentially affected by a large earthquake, Osaka, like its national counterpart, Tokyo, also sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is also subject to the four other major natural disasters, the one piling onto the other, increasing the risk to human life exponentially.

In fact, on a list of aggregated dangers, Osaka ranks fourth after Tokyo, Manila and the Pearl River Delta (whose main threat lies in storms and flooding, not earthquakes). The effect of a loss of productivity in Osaka would be catastrophic not only to the Japanese economy, but also the world economy, as a natural disaster in the area gives it a ranking of fourth on global impact after Tokyo, LA, and San Fransisco. The threat to Osaka also lurks in tsunamis and storm surges – catastrophes with a tendency to amplify one another.

But until we wake up to shuddering high-rises, crumbling infrastructure and mass pandemonium, all we can do is wait.

Cities Most Likely to be Hit by an Earthquake

RankEventProperty damages (inflation-adjusted in US$ (billions)) Country
11995 ᅠGreat Hanshin earthquake312.0Japan
22011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami249.0Japan
32008 Sichuan earthquake95.0China
41994 Northridge earthquake67.0United States
51980 Irpinia earthquake43.0Italy
61976 Tangshan earthquake42.0China
72011 Christchurch earthquake42.0New Zealand
82004 Chuetsu earthquake35.0Japan
91999 Izmit earthquake29.0Turkey
101989 Loma Prieta earthquake21.0United States
112010 Chile earthquake33.0Chile
122012 Emilia earthquakes16.0Italy
131999 ᅠ921 earthquake14.0Taiwan
142015 April Nepal earthquake10.0Nepal
151906 San Francisco earthquake9.5United States
161923 Great Kanto earthquake8.2Japan

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